Ryogemon (Jodo Shinshu Creed)

 Ryogemon was composed by Rennyo Shonin (1415-1499), the eight Monshu of Hongwanji. In it we find all we need to know and accept in order to be born in the Pure Land of Amida. By taking refuge in the Three Treasures[1] and accepting this profession of faith into our hearts we become Jodo Shinshu followers, so we must fully understand its meaning. There are a few English versions of Ryogemon, but I use the following one, translated by Zuio Inagaki Sensei:

“Having abandoned the mind of self-power to perform various practices and miscellaneous acts, I have entrusted myself to Amida Tathagata with singleness of heart recognizing that he has resolved my crucial after-life problem once and for all.

I understand that at the moment such entrusting Faith arises in me, my deliverance from Samsara is settled with the assurance of birth in the Pure Land, and joyfully accept that recitation of the Nembutsu which follows is to express my indebtedness to Amida.

How grateful I am that I have come to this understanding through the benevolence of the founder, Shinran Shonin, who appeared in this country and of the masters of the succeeding generations who have guided me with deep compassion!

From now on, I will abide by the rules of conduct all my life.”

***

 “Various practices and miscellaneous acts” include all the religious practices, teachings and actions through which people believe they achieve something, especially perfect Enlightenment and Buddhahood. These can be various meditation/contemplation or non-meditation methods, observing precepts with the thought of transferring the merits thus gained toward Enlightenment. Even the saying of Amida’s Name can be placed in this category if it is done while relying on your personal power[2].
All these are abandoned; the very idea that you can do something by yourself to gain perfect Enlightenment and Liberation from Samsara is abandoned. You simply realize that you are limited and incapable to become a Buddha by yourself.
You accept that only Amida Buddha[3] can help you in this and stop your endless wandering in the repeated cycle of birth and death, so you entrust completely to him.

In the exact moment you entrust to Amida you are assured of escaping from Samsara, and of birth in the Pure Land. In that exact moment (not when you die) you become saved, your karmic destiny is fixed and you are sure to become a Buddha in the Pure Land. Nothing which follows to this moment of the appearance of faith can somehow influence, improve or destroy your chances to be born in the Pure Land. You remain an ordinary person as you have always been, till the moment of your death, and even if you die unexpectedly, without thinking to Amida or not in a good state of mind, you still go in the Pure Land because you are already saved since your first moment of faith. So don’t worry about anything, just entrust in Amida and all is assured for you. The saying of Amida’s Name is just the expression of faith and gratitude because Amida saves you without asking anything from you, not the smallest virtue or merit.

You met the Dharma of Amida’s salvation because of Shinran Shonin’s appearance in this world and of his explanations. His successors who were faithful to his teachings and further spread them to the later generations, like for example, Master Kakunyo or Master Rennyo, also provided you with the conditions to meet this wonderful teaching. So they all, especially Shinran Shonin, deserve your gratitude and appreciation.

The rules of conduct you engage to observe all your life when you enter the Shinshu sangha are to be found in Rennyo’s letters[4]

-         respect other Buddhist schools and do not denigrate their teachings or followers[5]
-         do not belittle other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
-         do not denigrate the kami (gods of Shintoism)[6]
-         do not put on airs of a high spiritual person – be humble
-         do not impose our faith to others of various religions or Buddhist schools
-         be careful when you talk about Jodo Shinshu teaching with people who are not karmicaly mature and open to understand and receive it – do not impose it on them; in general, speak only when is truly necessary and at the right time.
-         do not be proud and do not become noisy, especially in the public, with your convictions and faith in Jodo Shinshu; be discrete, act normal, and enjoy your faith in silence and humbleness.
-         do not denigrate or slight government and local authorities because you have faith and they don’t
-         meet your public obligations and duties in full without fail
-         take the laws of the state as your outer aspect[7], store Other Power faith deep in your hearts and take the principles of humanity and justice as essential[8].

Also by becoming a Jodo Shinshu follower you automatically promise not to distort this wonderful teaching with personal ideas and opinions based on your unenlightened mind. Thus, you realize that the Shinshu Dharma is the wonderful medicine given by Shakyamuni and the Masters to save people from birth and death and in order to be effective you must not change it or alter it in any way since you are not a Doctor or a Buddha yourself. This is a rule of conduct which you automatically and naturally accept when you enter this path. It’s just common sense. If one destroys or modifies Amida Dharma, then this Ryogemon becomes useless and no salvation from birth and death can be possible. So, please be careful when you talk about Jodo Shinshu or you try to transmit it to others. Indications about this general rule of conduct are to be found everywhere in the teachings of Shinran and Rennyo, so take it as essential when you enter the Shinshu sangha.




[2] For example if you think that the better you recite it, the more chances you have to be born in the Pure Land, or that the number of recitations and the concentrated state of mind are important, or if you imagine that you can gain merits by this recitation which can be transferred to your birth in the Pure Land, etc.
[3] If one thinks that Amida is a symbol, a fictional character, a metaphor, as some deluded modern scholars interpret him, then this Ryogemon is useless. Only those who accept Amida as a real and living Buddha as described by Shakyamuni in the Larger Sutra can have true faith in him.
[4] References to these rules can be found at pages 20, 27, 32, 34, 35, 40, 41, 47, 50, 53, 71, 74, 77, 81 from “Rennyo Shonin Ofumi (The Letters of Rennyo)”, published by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and  Numata Center Translation and Research in 1996.
[5] Rennyo said in one of his many letters referring to this aspect: „Within our tradition there must be no slandering of other teachings and sects. As the teachings were all given by Shakyamuni during his life time, they should be fruitful if they are practiced just as they were expounded. In this last Dharma age, however, people like ourselves are not equal to the teachings of the various sects of the Path of Sages; therefore, we simply do not rely on them or entrust ourselves to them”.
[6] We do not rely on the kami, but this does not mean that we denigrate them. As Master Rennyo pointed out in many of his letters, some of the kami worshiped in Shintoism were in fact manifestations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who tried in many ways to bring sentient beings to finally entrust in the Amida Dharma. Thus, by receiving faith in Amida, we fulfill their wishes and aspirations, so we do not need to worship and take refuge in them. Shinran Shonin himself forbade worshiping of the kami and various gods, but he also never said we should denigrate them or their followers. Also, unlike Rennyo, he never spoke in his writings about kami as manifestations of Buddhas.

I would not go so far as to say that the important figures of all religions are in fact, manifestations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We know that in Buddhism, in general, gods are just one type of unenlightened beings among others, so we must not conclude that Master Rennyo tried to make us see all gods from various mythologies or important figures of major religions as being Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. In his letters he specifically made reference to Shintoist kami which other Japanese Buddhist schools also considered as having a link with the Buddha Dharma. Also, it would be a mistake to view all spirits, all kami and all figures of Japanese folklore as being Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In order to accommodate Rennyo’s instructions with Shinran’s instructions the best thing to do is to consider that indeed some kami might be manifestations, but to be sure that we make no mistakes and do not come to worship unenlightened spirits or gods, Jodo Shinshu followers should concentrate exclusively on Amida Buddha and leave aside, respectfully, all is related with Shintoism and its divine figures. Generally speaking, we should never look to Shintoism and especially to other religions as being the same with Buddhism. 
Shinran himself quoted Nirvana Sutra in his Kyogyoshinsho, where it is clearly stated that: the emancipation of non Buddhist ways is called impermanent; the emancipation of Buddhist ways is called eternal. So we abandon all non-Buddhist ways and follow only the Buddha Dharma, but in doing this we respect other people’s religious decisions and do not denigrate them.
[7] Act accordingly with the laws of the state you live in. Of course, this does not apply to laws that are inhumane and criminal.
[8] Try to be compassionate and treat all people equally no matter their differences. 

photo: Hongwanji Shinshu crest inside a Dharma wheel